Kennedy Stirs Senate Vacancy Pot

In a letter to Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick sent yesterday, U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy implored his Governor to seek a change to the way Massachusetts fills Senate vacancies:

“It is vital for this Commonwealth to have two voices speaking for the needs of its citizens and two votes in the Senate during the approximately five months between a vacancy and an election.”

Legislative Democrats in the Bay State stripped the Governor’s office of the ability to quickly appoint a successor in 2004 when they feared that Republican Gov. Mitt Romney would get to fill the Senate seat if Sen. John Kerry won the Presidency.  The current law in both states leaves the Senate seat empty while a special election is organized – between 145 and 160 days in MA and 150 days in CT.

Mr. Kennedy proposes that the Governor be allowed to appoint an interim replacement while the special election is held.

Sen. Kennedy’s arguments don’t just mirror those of Massachusetts Republicans from the ’04 debate, but also those who made the case against the Senate Vacancy bill in Connecticut earlier this year. 

With major legislative initiatives under consideration – health care reform, for example – having an empty Senate seat could be a key factor in the decision-making process.  Every state deserves to have “two voices speaking for the needs of its citizens” all the time. 

But Democrat-controlled Legislatures in both states have largely ignored the ill effects of their actions to this point.  More surprising is that they don’t seem to be chastened even as one of their Party’s giants, recognizing his own situation, makes the opposing argument.

It was the Connecticut Compromise, crafted by New Haven’s Roger Sherman and Windsor’s Oliver Ellsworth, that settled the representation question at the Constitutional Convention in 1787.  Under the deal, small states like Connecticut would have equal weight in the upper chamber of Congress by sending two people to the U.S. Senate while proportional representation would determine the makeup of the House of Representatives.

It is clear that Senator Kennedy, like those who opposed the original adoption of the Senate Vacancy bill, understand the importance of full representation in the U.S. Senate.  It is hard to say the same about the elected officials who voted for it.


15 responses to “Kennedy Stirs Senate Vacancy Pot

  1. CasualObserver

    But what’s convienently forgotten is that Ted Kennedy lead the charge in 2004 for the law to be changed the first time.

  2. Neither Massachusetts nor Connecticut passed these bills to foster democracy: they did so for purely partisan reasons.

  3. Neither Massachusetts nor Connecticut passed these bills to foster democracy: they did so for purely partisan reasons.

    Oh my! What a daring allegation! You can’t be serious, can you?

  4. If the good Senator was truly concerned with his state’s representation he would step aside and allow the process to begin. There is no way Health Care gets voted on in the next 160 days. I’m sure he realizes that Democrats rarely win special elections because its tough enough to get the uninformed voter out on an election day, much less a special election day.

  5. I am not unsympathetic to the position that Kennedy’s in here, but the problem is less about how the seat will be vacant for the next five months and more about how this issue wouldn’t exist if he’d resigned five months ago. He’s a proud guy, and this is his life’s work, but he has made a decision to stay in office until the last day of his life instead of passing the torch.

    Special elections for Senate vacancies are still the right thing to do. If MA Democrats just wanted to screw Romney, they could have passed the exact vacancy law that already existed in Wyoming. Putting it in the hands of voters is better, and fairer, than the appointment process.

  6. “It is clear that Senator Kennedy, like those who opposed the original adoption of the Senate Vacancy bill, understand the importance of full representation in the U.S. Senate.”

    Oh really???

    Well for about two and a half years out of every four anyway……

    The other year and a half it seems the country must try to get by with far less than full representation as typically a half dozen or so of these guys from both parties focus on the real senate “vacancy” bill as they travel the country running for President.

    The disastrous fiscal events of the past couple of years suggests to me that we can no longer continue to tolerate so many of these guys spending so much of their time more focused on some other job then the one they were elected to do. Running for President has to be a full time job, demanding full attention, and full effort. How can there not be some serious negative impact having so many during that time only giving their job in the senate any left over attention.

    If it is so important to have full representation that even being down one senator means we cannot afford to wait five or so months to elect his or her replacement then maybe we should at least temporally replace these guys with someone who can give the job it’s full attention while they are campaigning for President.

    Might even stop a few vanity runs, and help keep the focus where it belongs.

  7. Al,

    Do you think the same applies to Governors? So did Palin actually do the right thing?

  8. nmct,

    I think you ask a reasonable question I assume you ask it without any partisan intent. I’ll try to answer you with that intent myself.

    I would say that IMO any Governor, Congress person, and most certainly any Senator, have job requirements that clearly are full time….. Obviously running for President in itself is not only a full time job but one that does divert ones attention away from any other job for quite some time.

    The main difference is a governor does have a Lt Governor that can serve as governor during their absence from the job. All I am suggesting is why not do the same for the others as well? Or maybe another way to look at it is if someone can take so much time off from their primary job that we don’t need to back fill during that time, maybe we don’t need that person in the first place……. That goes for both D’s and R’s .

  9. One could build a reasonable argument that in Minnessota, once the Senate election’s outcome was pushed into never never land, the Governor could have declared a vacancy when the term ended and appointed someone to fill the vacancy until the election results were certified. Five m0nths without proper representation is too long. As Mr Trumbull proposed each state should have two Senators’

    Where am I going with this? Common sense should have the Governor appointing an interim Senator or Representative until a special election fills the vacancy. As EMK proposes, the interim appointment should also declare his non-candidacy inthe special election.

    Fair government is for the bold, not the politicians.

  10. nmct,

    “Do you think the same applies to Governors? So did Palin actually do the right thing?”

    Well after sleeping on your question I realized I may have rushed off my first answer a bit too quickly.

    You specifically asked if “Palin did the right thing” so these added comments are meant to better answer that specific question.

    First, keep in mind she was asked by the nominee of her party to run as VP, she was not herself running for President. She was answering the call from her party. She didn’t decided to try to change jobs on her own, she was asked to.

    Second, Her time away from Alaska as she ran for VP was what three months? The time from the convention to the election. Far less time away than so many senators who started out aiming for New Hampshire and Iowa many, many months earlier. And at the same time as I pointed out above she at least had a Lt. Gov who could have filled in for her as needed during her absence or even be sworn in as Gov had her ticket actually won the election.

    Third, ironically with little prior warning it seems she, as well as the people of Alaska were far better set up to handle her relatively short absence from her elected job, then a dozen other states are when one of their senators decides to take a year off and run for President. Not mention Alaska would not even need to spend a dime on a special election or wait a week to immediately replace her if the need had come to pass.

    Remember this thread is about the question of the agreed importance full representation for all states at all times in the senate. If it is so important to have a governor appoint an interim senator while waiting for a special election for one senator, why not do the same thing when so many more of these guys take their LOA’s for a year or more every 4 years?

    For me interim means just that, interim…… I don’t care if that interim person must be from the same party as the absent senator. Their job in the senate is still there waiting for them when they return. Until then someone else is doing it, and at least someone else is paying attention.

  11. Al,

    You may have misinterpreted my question or better yet I may not have represented myself properly. With the criticism that Sarah Palin received when she stepped down from the Governor’s chair in Alaska (ie the “didn’t finish the job”) by what your original post, I fell as if you think she may have made the right move. This is all predicated by the fact that she is planning on running for President in 2012.

  12. Common sense should have the Governor appointing an interim Senator or Representative until a special election fills the vacancy.

    Agreed. No need to wait two years for the next election, but also no need to wait until an election can be held (and five mos seems reasonable, if a primary is involved). Or we could just repeal 1913:

    1) the Federal Reserve
    2) the income tax
    3) direct election of Senators

    and return to the state legislatures electing US Senators.

    The Founding Fathers were pretty clever. And if my understanding of history is correct, the change related to corruption. But with the rise of the blogosphere… transparency has greatly increased… and it’s a compromise I would make.

  13. but I fully recognize that if any legislator says it… Rs will be blasted by the Guv… and Dems will villified for a power grab. And really the only way to defend against that would be for a credible legislator to propose it. And I’m not sure who could… is there a Bernie Sanders / Ron Paul among the Gang of 187? I’ve never noticed one, but I may not have looked closely enough.

  14. nmct,

    Ok now we are on the same page…….:-)

    So I guess your question to me was asking if I felt it was proper of Palin to leave office before her term was up if she was doing so to run for President.

    Assuming that this is the reason she did resign her office I would have to conclude that she must then believe that the process of turning a relatively unknown governor from Alaska into a creditable Presidential candidate would take far too much of her attention away from her duties as governor. So in that case if her intent is to run for President and she believes it is a full time job even now for her preparing for that goal, then yes, I would have to conclude she did make the right choice. Both for herself, as well as the people of Alaska.

    Clearly she is accepting 100% of the political risk here to her career and not forcing the people of Alaska to tolerate less than the full attention of their Governor. No matter what one thinks of her you must give her credit there.

    I also don’t feel like she in anyway mislead the people of Alaska when she ran for governor. I have to believe at the time she expected to serve her entire term. Suddenly lighting strikes, and she was thrust onto the national stage as a VP candidate. If she now views that as an opportunity to take advantage of can anyone really fault her for that? At least she is not letting the people of Alaska go without a focused governor while she chases her windmills, if in fact that is all it turns out she will be doing.

    Again to be clear I am not suggesting that any Governor, Senator, or Congressional Representative, should be required to resign his or her office to run for President. I am simply suggesting that since running for President is really a full time job that spans so many months if not even years that obviously if “full representation” is as important as Sen Kennedy seems to now feel (and I happen to have always felt) that with so many senators missing far too many votes each presidential election that we somehow find a way to appoint an interim replacement for each of them while they do their campaigning for higher office.

    I mean when you think of it, where else would we consider promoting someone to a higher office when that person doesn’t even show up for work for months at a time on the job they already have?

  15. Isn’t this just wonderful to watch the Mass Democrats backtrack on this. If they have any class at all they won’t change the rules again. I’ve no doubt when, sadly, inevitably, the shoe is on the other foot our Connecticut Democrat crowd will push for Gov. appointment powers. This is like watching a very long preview of coming attractions. I love it when they show their true colors.

    The real shame in all this is, IMO, the fact that our senator’s party is more important than whether he can actually represent the state. This is only important because states don’t really matter anymore – nearly everything is controlled by the federal government.

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